"A provocative new author. A fascinating debut novel. Read it!” Jeff VanderMeer
In Rachel Heng's debut set in near future New York Citywhere lives last three hundred years and the pursuit of immortality is all-consumingLea must choose between her estranged father and her chance to live forever.
Lea Kirino is a “Lifer,” which means that a roll of the genetic dice has given her the potential to live foreverif she does everything right. And Lea is an overachiever. She’s a successful trader on the New York exchangewhere instead of stocks, human organs are now bought and soldshe has a beautiful apartment, and a fiancé who rivals her in genetic perfection. And with the right balance of HealthTech™, rigorous juicing, and low-impact exercise, she might never die.
But Lea’s perfect life is turned upside down when she spots her estranged father on a crowded sidewalk. His return marks the beginning of her downfall as she is drawn into his mysterious world of the Suicide Club, a network of powerful individuals and rebels who reject society’s pursuit of immortality, and instead choose to liveand dieon their own terms. In this future world, death is not only taboo; it’s also highly illegal. Soon Lea is forced to choose between a sanitized immortal existence and a short, bittersweet time with a man she has never really known, but who is the only family she has left in the world.
|Publisher:||Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Rachel Heng’s fiction has won Prairie Schooner's Jane Geske Award and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. An extract from Suicide Club was included in The Huffington Post's "15 Stellar Short Stories You Can Read Online" list. She graduated from Columbia University with a BA in Comparative Literature & Society and Economics and is currently a James A. Michener Fellow at the Michener Center for Writers, UT Austin.
Read an Excerpt
The cake was a huge, tiered thing, painted with buttercream and decked with tiny red flowers, floating on a glass pedestal in the middle of the crowded room.
No one talked about it, or even looked at it. But every now and then, someone would linger a little too long by the drinks table, pretending to assess the various bubbly greens on offer while peeking at the cake out of the corner of their eye. Todd stood dutifully by Lea's side, a slender flute of pale cordial in hand.
"Lovely party," he said, nodding as if someone had asked him a question. He beckoned at her with his glass. "Great drinks. I'm really enjoying the Spirulina Spritz."
Lea smiled absently. Her eyes flitted over the crowd, taking in the navy dresses and delicate silver jewelry, the tasteful suits in varying shades of gray. The flowers on the cake stood out like pinpricks of blood in an otherwise bloodless room. Even the bronzed faces, framed by shiny locks, so well hydrated and even-boned, seemed gray to her.
But it was a success, by all accounts. The party was a success.
She wouldn't forget to smile. Healthy mind, healthy body.
* * *
"There they are! My favorite couple."
"Natalie." Todd brightened, tilting his head in welcome.
Natalie delivered her air kisses with the forbearance of a celebrity deigning to have their picture taken. First to Todd, then to Lea, careful not to actually touch their cheeks.
"You look — wow — great," Todd said, still nodding. Lea suppressed the urge to grab his head and hold it still.
She did look great, though. Her sheath dress shimmered in the candlelight, shadowy indigo. It looked as if Natalie had been poured, a creamy, fragrant liquid, into the sleek dark length of it.
Lea flashed a smile, mentally cataloging her own appearance. She measured her straight black hair against Natalie's glossy brown curls (Natalie's was more luscious, more full of life), the burnt umber of her skin against Natalie's pale, freckled visage (prone to UV damage and melanoma, so here Lea had a clear advantage). Natalie's face was angular and long, which, together with her large front teeth, gave her an equine aspect. Lea, on the other hand, had never lost her baby fat and her cheeks remained full and plump, lacking in angles altogether. It was something which had bothered her as a girl but that she prized today. As with most lifers around the same age, their bodies were as similar as their faces were different, nearly identical in stature and muscular tone.
"Please," Natalie said. "Don't patronize me. Can you see these lines?" She pointed to one smooth, rouged cheek. "I know you can, so there's no need to be polite. I've had the worst week, just the worst, must have taken at least three months off my number. But I don't want to talk about it."
She pressed her lips together. It was evident that she did, in fact, very much want to talk about it, but no one said anything.
"Lea!" she said suddenly. "Tell me all about you! You are naughty, always keeping things to yourself." Natalie glanced coyly at Todd.
"Trust me, I'd love to have some secrets. But with friends like you ..."
They burst out laughing. Todd laughed too, right on cue. Their laughter was rich and cascading, a golden ribbon unfurling through the party, making people turn to look, people who were until then perfectly secure of their position in life but at that moment felt something was missing.
More friends arrived to join the group, and the flirtatious barbs continued. Lea was up for a big promotion, which she made sure to slip in casually while complaining about how much more work she was getting. She felt the information sink in and waited for the reaction it would generate. Sure enough, Jasmine jumped in with a cautionary tale about how promotions tended to turn co-workers against you; after all, that was what happened to her when she was the first lifer at her firm to get to director level before she hit a hundred.
The conversation fizzled, and they cast their gazes about, looking for a new topic. Some pulled out their tablets.
"So," Natalie said, lowering her voice conspiratorially. "Have you seen it?" She tossed her hair, the lush ringlets giving off the faint scent of coconut. Her neck was firm and smooth. Like the flank of a racehorse, Lea thought.
Natalie rolled her eyes, pushed her shoulders back. Her left shoulder, Lea noticed with satisfaction, was slightly lower than the right. Lea drew herself up to her full height as well, glad that her sleeveless silk top showed off the definition of her upper arms, the symmetry of her clavicles.
"The video, of course," Natalie said.
No one looked up from their tabs, but Lea felt the air freeze. She saw the man's eyes, hard and shiny, pupils perfectly opaque, like a fish. His mouth, filling up with heat and fire, melting into brown and black and red, flesh vanishing into smoke and flame.
"Oh, God," said a tall man with poreless mahogany skin. He sipped on his vitamin spritz and shuddered. "Can we not talk about that again, Natalie?"
Natalie's new fiancé, Lea remembered. She looked at him closely, taking in his height, posture, muscle tone. She noted the dark intelligent eyes, long lashes, elegant, broad forehead.
"What? We know everyone's thinking about it," Natalie said.
"Unfortunate, unfortunate, very unfortunate. How could we not?" Todd bowed his head.
"Exactly!" Natalie crowed.
"They're sick," someone else chimed in.
"Imagine children watching that."
"Imagine us watching that. Who knows how many months you lose watching that kind of thing?"
"Right! Just think about what it does to cortisol levels."
"Pure spectacle, that's what it is."
"And to do it like that. I feel nauseated just thinking about it."
Suddenly Lea could smell it — the acrid burn of flesh, the eye-watering sting of smoke. The man's eyes, filled with a hard, unfamiliar conviction, a deep sadness. Something inside her lurched. Revulsion, she told herself. Shock.
"Are you okay, Lea?" Todd said. "You look a little pale."
Everyone was looking at her now.
"Oh, yes, Lea," Natalie said, eyes wide with concern. "Now that Todd's mentioned it. How are your vitamin D levels, darling? I can recommend a clinic, you know, if yours isn't quite up to the mark."
"Perfect, actually." Lea smiled, ignoring the barely veiled insult. "And no, thank you. I would never leave my Tender. Jessie and I go way back — she was assigned to our family when my mother made senior VP."
"Of course," Natalie said. She pressed her lips together and turned back to the others.
* * *
It won't kill you to be nice. At least try.
I am, Lea thought. I am trying. Irritation flared in her belly. She saw her mother's face, the lines emanating from the corners of her eyes. Then she heard her voice in her head again: Wrinkles are caused by the loss of elasticity in the skin, a consequence of wear and tear that can be delayed, but not eliminated, by Repairants.
Ever practical, her mother. Even after she'd been dead for thirty years. Her spine had remained upright till the very end, her downy hair as black as it had always been, kept neatly cropped close to her skull by monthly visits to the salon. Her skin retained its elasticity far better than some of her lighter peers, who had withered decades earlier. Her muscles stayed firm, her feet smooth and well-groomed, her mauve lips full. Such were the benefits of being the CEO of Talent Global and having access to Tier 4 treatments.
Uju had lived to a hundred and forty-two — forty-two years older than Lea was now. It had been a good outcome for someone of her generation, someone who had been in her sixties when the Second Wave began. For Lea, however, a hundred and forty-two would be failure. Three hundred was now the number to beat.
Don't waste it. I gave you everything. Everything your brother couldn't have. Her mother's voice was quiet now, but Lea heard in it the ache that always made her snap to attention, that threatened to open up the wound that the decades, so many of them, could not heal.
She looked around the room at the sleek, glossy haircuts, the smooth foreheads and ramrod spines. The beautiful, wealthy, life-loving people conversing in low voices, politely laughing and clinking glasses from time to time. She took in the premium vitamin spritzes, the fine crystal flutes, the high ceilings and expansive view of the city down below. The space she had rented for the party was usually reserved for corporate functions, but select employees at the Healthfin fund she worked for were able to book it for special occasions.
No, she hadn't wasted anything, Lea thought. Her mother would surely have been proud.
* * *
"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Lea!"
The room burst into thunderous applause. Cameras flashed. Lea smiled the way Uju had told her to eighty-eight years ago: Your eyes, make sure to use your eyes, or it looks like you don't mean it.
She picked up the knife and sliced into the bottom layer of the cake. The Styrofoam gave a high squeal when the plastic blade went through it, but even as she winced inwardly, Lea never let the smile leave her face.CHAPTER 2
The pavement was a slipstream of browns and grays. The jacket-clad men and women all walked in the same way — elbows pinned to their sides, heads down, gaze directed at the heels of the commuter in front of them.
Lea didn't know what it was that made her look up. Perhaps it was something in the air, the smell of summer giving way to fall, that first nip of coolness brushing her cheeks. Perhaps it was the delicate ankles of the woman in front of her, clothed in dark mesh. Or the leftover buzz from her birthday party the night before, a desire to take in the expanse of the street, the eggshell blue of the morning sky.
When she saw him the air went out of her lungs. He was crossing the road some way ahead of her. He moved slowly, unaware of the disruption he was causing to the flow of commuters around him. Lea could see the looks of annoyance on their faces as people were forced to veer off their usual unthinking paths. The impatient clicks of tongues and issuance of sighs filled her head. He, however, did not seem to notice and only kept walking at the same ponderous pace, one heavy footstep after another.
This old, oblivious man couldn't be her father. Yet she couldn't tear her eyes from him. She saw how his once-black hair had faded to gray, how thinly it sat against his scalp, the unkempt edges of it curling at his lined neck. She drank in the curve of his jaw that used to hold more flesh than it did now. She watched as he brought his chin to his chest and his hand to his nose, pinching its base as if preparing to go underwater. The gesture was unmistakable.
Lea felt a violent jerk in her chest. A pressure on her diaphragm, a tightness in the throat. Eighty-eight years since the day he'd disappeared without saying goodbye, and there he was again. On the other side of the road, as if he'd never been gone at all.
Let him go. Uju's voice to twelve-year-old Lea. We have to let him go. It's better this way, after what he's done. He doesn't belong in your life.
The crowd was bearing the man farther and farther away, despite his slow pace. Now he was on the other side of the street, disappearing down the pavement. Soon he would be out of sight.
Her mother had been right then and she was almost certainly right now, especially now. Everything Lea had worked so hard for, decade after decade, was about to pay off. She'd done it with her mother's support and discipline, yes, but she'd also done it in spite of her father, everything that he'd done and was.
Lea bit down hard on the inside of her cheek, sucking the soft flesh between her teeth. She started elbowing her way through the crowd.
"Watch out!" A stray shoulder rammed into her chest.
He was getting farther away. Only his lack of speed allowed her to keep her eyes on him; he was like a pebble in a stream, forming ripples in the crowd that surrounded him. Now all she could see was the top of his gray head, bobbing amidst the swirling human currents.
The traffic crossing was too far away. Lea craned her neck as she continued pushing her way through the crowd, but he was turning the corner on the other side of the street, and would soon be out of sight altogether. She made a sharp right.
Sorry. Excuse me. Sorry, sorry. Pardon me. Sorry.
She found herself at the edge of the sidewalk. Vehicles sped past, their tinted windows hiding those powerful enough to use car pools at peak hour. On the other side of the road, her father was about to turn the corner, about to disappear again. For the second time in eighty-eight years, she was going to lose him.
A gap opened in the flow of traffic. Lea stepped out onto the road.
* * *
She woke up with the familiar cold of tiny electrodes attached to her bare skin.
"Lea Kirino, one hundred years old."
The voice came from a woman in Tender's maroons, standing next to the bed. She was reading from a tablet. When she lifted her eyes from the screen, Lea saw that they were the dark, damp color of moss.
"Happy belated birthday. Could you tell me what happened?" the Tender said.
"I was walking to work. I was late —" Lea stopped. Work. The Musk presentation. She stiffened and tried to sit up, but her head felt thick, her brain swollen. "What time is it?"
The Tender placed a hand on Lea's shoulder. Her touch was gentle but surprisingly heavy. Lea sank her head back into the pillow.
"What happened?" the Tender asked again. "Why did you step out onto the road like that?"
Her father's face in the crowd. The sagging cheeks, the thin neck. Lea thought of the white envelopes that were slipped under her door every few months, the statutory declarations she had to make stating that she did not know where he was. They were still looking for him, decades later. What was he doing in the city?
"I was late for work," Lea said again, her thoughts whirling. "I was trying to take a shortcut. The cars — they didn't stop."
The Tender was looking at her with eyebrows drawn together, two deep lines between them. Lea wanted to tell her not to frown, to remind her of the importance of a neutral expression in preserving skin elasticity. But she could tell from the Tender's skin that she was well hydrated and pH balanced.
"How bad was it? Will I need to have anything replaced?" Lea recoiled. She had managed thus far to keep all of her limbs organic, no mean feat for someone who had just reached a hundred. It was only when the Tender failed to reply that Lea noticed the white stripes across her maroon sleeves.
"Which division is this?" she asked.
The Tender tapped a silent note into her tablet. Its red recording light blinked.
"Late for work, you said."
"Yes. Why does that matter?" But Lea's heart was sinking even as she asked the question. Directive 109A: Reckless Pedestrian Conduct in Undesignated Zones.
"Look, I know it was an undesignated zone," Lea said. "Butyou'll see, just look it up, my record is spotless. It was one tiny mistake, surely this doesn't matter?"
The Tender was listening carefully now, head tilted to one side. "Where did you say you were crossing again?" Her cool gaze didn't budge.
"Somewhere along Broadway. The intersection with Thirty-second. Maybe Thirty-fourth."
The Tender's fingernails clicked neatly against the polished glass of her tablet.
"And where do you work?"
"Borough One West. Why does that matter? You haven't answered me — how bad was it? Am I okay?" Lea spread her hands out underneath the sheets, feeling the webs of skin between her fingers stretch. She wriggled her toes and bent her knees. Around her, the electrode wires rustled like a bed of grass. Her body felt normal, as far as she could tell. But she'd heard that these days, replacements felt normal too.
Posters lined the wall, comforting and familiar in their thin metal frames. A fat-encrusted artery stretched out like a sock ("Meat kills"); a raw, torn joint ("Switch to low impact today"); the ubiquitous glowing red eyeball ("Fruit — #1 cause of diabetes-led blindness"). Recessed ceiling lights cast a warm but insistent glow, leaving no corner of the room unlit. Lea recognized the album streaming from invisible speakers as Sea and Mandolin, dubbed one of the most calming records of the decade. Nevertheless she felt her cortisol levels ticking up. What was this Tender doing? Certainly not her job. Lea looked around the room for a feedback box, but except for the bed, the room contained no furniture or equipment.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Suicide Club"
Copyright © 2018 Qingpei Rachel Heng.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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